From Lattes to Websites: Complementary Products

So I must admit that I am a very indecisive person.

It’s not that I can’t commit to any one thing, but I am often overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available to me. In this day and age, with it’s ever-quickening delivery schedules, endless supply of Yelp and Google ratings, and armies of social media influencers, I find it amazing that anyone can making a decision about anything and somehow remain confident in that choice longer than a few minutes. Overthinking is my default, so I am regularly plagued by buyer’s and non-buyer’s remorse.

Side note: If you just thought, “Geez, it sounds like she’s got an anxiety problem,” well, you must be new here.

So of course, whenever I walk into a coffee shop and see a menu several pages or boards long, I tend to be a bit annoyed. I mean, come on. I came in for a coffee and something to nibble on, not a four-course meal with tasting platters and the ability to customize my drink like a Myspace page.

But I know myself. I’ll consider all the options and take waaaaaaay to much time deciding what I want to order. I just don’t want to miss out on something. It gets me every time.

Regardless of how I feel about long menus though, many coffee shops build up their offerings so substantially for a couple of reasons:

  1. To diversify revenue. Cups of coffee aren’t going to bring home the big bucks. By adding other drinks and food items to the menu, shops increase their profitability while at the same time decreasing their risk. It’s a recommended investment tactic.
  2. To better mitigate changing consumer tastes. The food and drink industries are not stable ones. They are super susceptible to economic downturns and trends, and staying afloat in such a turbulent environment can be incredibly difficult, especially if your offerings are limited in the first place. Diversified products allow shops to not just cater to a much larger group of consumer tastes, but it also makes it easier to make changes when necessary.

Ultimately, what this means is that a successful coffee shop is going to constantly be touting new products if it intends to survive. Frappuccinos, matcha, cold brew, beer, nitro, pour over, coffee cocktails, etc. They were all created to attract new customers as well as to retain current customers who will eventually become, if they aren’t already, bored with the shop’s original offerings.

Who would’ve though that coffee consumers could be so fickle and cutthroat?

But coffee shops have to be careful not to overdo it. In my previous posts about Starbucks, I mentioned this a few times, but if a shop is constantly introducing new products without ensuring that it is complementary to the original offerings, then things are going to go downhill real fast.

So that begs the question: what makes a new product complementary?

  1. This is probably the most important item of them all, but a new product cannot cause a decrease in the quality of another product. This is something I have definitely experienced at Starbucks. (I’m sure Howard Schultz would fight me for making that statement, but it’s true.) I want to say that another round of company-wide espresso training is in order, but that’s not going to fix all of the quality issues. Starbucks employees have to know how to make too many different kinds of drinks, and it’s hard to ensure quality in that kind of environment. Simply put, it’s the quality vs. quantity conundrum.
  2. A new product cannot overcome the original products. Ever hear of sales cannibalism? A little is always likely when new products are introduced, but ultimately, a shop needs to be careful not to direct its customers so far away from the original product that they don’t purchase it at all. If that happens, not only has the shop lost its identity but it has failed to achieve the benefits of offering a new product in the first place.
  3. A new product shouldn’t require massive process changes. This is actually what I really like about matcha in coffee shops. It’s basically just an alternative to espresso. All the milk products used in espresso drinks can also be used to make the matcha drinks, and most food pairings that go well with espresso also go well with matcha. It’s a very cost efficient and massively beneficial product addition.
  4. It’s an add-on. This is one of the reasons why food offerings are so great for coffee shops. Like alcohol, many people don’t want to drink coffee on an empty stomach (I am one of those people), so by offering something to nibble on, a shop increases sales easily. Again, it is important that a shop makes sure that food items do not detract from the quality of the coffee, but other than that, the two are natural pairings.

With all that in mind, there are many coffee shops in the central Texas region that have excelled at the art of new products while it’s obvious that others haven’t. An inability to manage product offerings though hasn’t necessarily meant a lack of success in Austin. A couple of reasons why such places remain in high esteem among the public despite this shortcoming is because the economy is doing well (for now) and large groups of people are still moving into the region. Demand is so high that supply is barely able to keep up. Put another way, it doesn’t matter so much what a shop is offering, just that it is offering something.

I am extremely interested to see how many of these places are able to sustain their business when the inevitable economic downturn comes around. That’s always when these types of management issues come to light.

And on that happy note, we shall move onto the next characteristic of the coffee identity: Service.

You know, assuming I don’t find any more weird coffee related Pinterest black holes to blog about.

So until next time,

The one and the only Pookachino

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